Moogy Klingman: Collaborator with Todd Rundgren and Bette Midler

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The Independent Online

The possessor of one of the most memorable nicknames in rock and pop, Mark "Moogy" Klingman played keyboards on several of the albums his friend Todd Rundgren made throughout the 1970s, including the dizzying masterpiece A Wizard, A True Star and the experimental Todd, as well as Something/Anything?, the best-selling 1972 double set that preceded them and showcased Rundgren's multi-instrumentalist skills on three of its vinyl sides.

Clearly audible swapping studio banter with Rundgren, Klingman recruited many of the session musicians who contributed to the last, "band" side and he featured on four of its tracks. He co-wrote the elegiac "Dust in the Wind", later revived by Guns N' Roses, and played the wonderful organ on the hit version of "Hello It's Me", the yearning Rundgren composition the musical wonderkid had first recorded with his previous band The Nazz in 1968.

Klingman was often a catalyst; in 1969 he masterminded the Music From Free Creek super-session project featuring Jeff Beck (billed as AN Other), Eric Clapton (credited as King Cool), Keith Emerson and members of Canned Heat at the Record Plant in New York. The same year, he began building a studio in his Manhattan loft called Secret Sound where Rundgren made and mixed his own albums and produced other artists. In 1973, Klingman and Rundgren formed the futuristic group Utopia and put a spiritual spin on progressive rock.

With William "Buzzy" Linhart, he wrote "(You got to have) Friends" which Bette Midler incorporated into her act at the Continental Baths in New York and included on her 1972 debut, The Divine Miss M; it became her theme song. Klingman took over from Barry Manilow as her musical director and oversaw her 1976 album Songs for the New Depression notable for the disco version of "Strangers in the Night", and "Buckets of Rain", written by and featuring Bob Dylan.

Born in 1950 in the Long Island suburb of Great Neck, New York, he was the son of Mildred Klingman, who wrote The Secret Lives of Fat People, and owed his nickname to a little sister who struggled to say Marky. "That's how I ended up with Moogy. It's coincidental that I ended up playing the Moog synthesiser," he said. Klingman excelled on a variety of keyboard instruments but took up the piano after seeing the film Rhapsody in Blue, and remained a devotee of George Gershwin. His style was influenced by jazz pianists like Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Keith Jarrett, with whom he studied, and also drew on the boogie-woogie and funk gumbo of Allen Toussaint and Dr John.

In 1965, his older sister got him a pass to the Newport Jazz Festival, where he witnessed Dylan "going electric". The following year, his first group the Chosen Few made a demo that contained several Dylan compositions yet failed to get them a record deal. He was luckier with his next band, the Glitterhouse. They recorded for Bob Crewe's DynoVoice label and contributed to the soundtrack for the Jane Fonda sci-fi film Barbarella (1968).

A Zelig-like figure who played with Jimi Hendrix, then using the name Jimmy James, and another teenage prodigy, Randy California, and performed in a jugband with his schoolmate Andy Kaufman, Klingman met Rundgren at the Cafe au Go Go in Greenwich Village. "We went on to influence each other greatly," he recalled. "We were both listening to Laura Nyro when we were 18 and 19. Specifically, we both learned a lot from her album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession."

As well as working with Rundgren, Klingman made two solo albums for Capitol and EMI and more on his own label. He penned songs recorded by Carly Simon and Johnny Winter, and participated in the recording of Kooper Session, another jam-session project involving Al Kooper and Shuggie Otis, in 1970. Often seen at demonstrations in New York, he shared his mother's leftist and anti-war beliefs and called his most recent band the Peaceniks.

When Klingman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last year, the original line-up of Utopia reunited for two concerts to raise funds for his medical bills. "Music eliminates all the pain from the battle with 'the big C'. Music is a real pain reliever. Music is magical," he said. "I've been going through operations and treatments, and I felt no pain onstage ... I have to play a lot because I don't know how long I have left in this world."

Mark Klingman, musician: born Great Neck, New York 7 September 1950; died Manhattan 15 November 2011.